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The Witness Who Refuses to Talk and the One Who Refuses Not to

Understand the reluctant and over-eager witness to extract the golden nuggets of information they are trying to hide

Posted by Dawn Lomer on August 2nd, 2011
You know you’re going to get some good information when a witness refuses to talk to you in an investigation interview.

“Those are my favorite kind of witnesses, because they ultimately end up telling you more than you want to know,” says investigator Greg Caldwell. There’s a good reason he or she doesn’t want to talk to you. And if you understand why, you can extract exactly what the witness is trying to hide.

Over-Eager Witness Digs Her Own Hole

On the other hand, a witness who is too eager to talk can also provide some very compelling clues to the case, but in a different way. The chances are good that he or she is being manipulative, as the investigators in the Schneider pill mill case found out.

The investigation team from that case presented at the 2010 NHCAA Healthcare Anti-Fraud Training Conference on the process and results of the high-profile health care fraud investigation. During the course of their interviews surrounding the investigation into fraud and drug distribution at the Schneiders’ clinic, one of the two prime suspects, Linda Schneider, came forward with “new information” that she wanted to present, long after she had been interviewed for the ongoing case.

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Her eagerness to come forward tipped off the investigators that she was trying to cover something up, and her new testimony only dug her deeper into the hole of guilt in which she was already wallowing. In fact, by trying to explain the huge volume of billing, she compared the line-ups at their clinic to line-ups for concert tickets. People would be lining up as early as 5am for the clinic to open, she said. That information only served to paint an even clearer picture for the investigators of the pill mill the Schneiders had been running.

Reluctant Witness is a Gold Mine

An over-eager witness may be trying to manipulate the outcome of the interview, and good investigators are wise to this tactic. Similarly, a witness who refuses to talk can be a gold mine of information in the hands of the right investigator.

Caldwell cites an example of a case where a witness in a criminal investigation had been interviewed by the police, but had been unwilling to talk further and then disappeared.

“We knew the police would have this witness and produce him at trial. The attorney wanted me to track the witness down and interview him to see if his story was the exact same as he had put in his police report,” he says.

“When he opened the door I introduced myself and he said ‘I’ve got nothing to say to you. The Police say I don’t have to talk to you’ which was completely correct.”

But Caldwell isn’t the type of investigator to walk away from such a golden opportunity.

“I would liken it to sales back in the 50s, the door to door sales of Kirby vacuums,” he says. “There’s an old adage that the hard-core salesmen had that they loved to see ‘no solicitor’ signs on doors. Because that meant the person knew they were weak, couldn’t resist sales and so they had to put a sign.. Likewise people who say they don’t want to talk to you… there’s something they don’t want to talk about.”

And so it was that Caldwell talked the witness into going out for coffee and got the little piece of information that wasn’t in the police report, the tiny nugget he needed to get his client acquitted.

Dawn Lomer
Dawn Lomer

Manager of Communications

Dawn Lomer is the Manager of Communications at i-Sight Software and a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). She writes about topics related to workplace investigations, ethics and compliance, data security and e-discovery, and hosts i-Sight webinars.

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